MON, 02 FEB 2015


It seems to me that there’s been a rising tide of studies and initiatives revolving around happiness since the start of this decade – especially among policymakers including the UK Government’s own Cabinet Office.

But why bother?

Well according to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network – whose second World Happiness Report was published in 2013 – ’Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens.’

And it concludes: ’Well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.’

In other words: Happiness is good for government.

The UN’s World Happiness Report relies on a carefully calibrated combination of datasets to arrive at its international index of national happiness.

The Copenhagen-based think-tank the Institut for Lykkesforskning (for non-Dansk speakers: Institute of Happiness) has identified at least eight factors that it believes influences happiness in Denmark.

And in higher education establishments across the globe – including the University of British Columbia, the LSE, Columbia University and Warwick Business School – economists are turning their attention to criteria, even genetics, to pinpoint happiness-shaped policies and practices for sustainable 21st century economies and societies.

What really intrigues me, though, is not so much the transformation of happiness into a matrix of metrics to tick off.

I’m more curious about a recipe for happiness which relies on a combination of economic, environmental, social and cultural ingredients.

In my career as a financial planner, my happiest clients weren’t necessarily the ones who were wealthiest. And my wealthiest clients didn’t make me the happiest either.

What’s more, when it came to dealing with lifecos, platforms, software and service providers, probably the biggest factor in determining my level of happiness was not price, features, uptime, speed of response and so on, but how I was able to work with them to achieve what I wanted for my clients.

At the very least, happiness is a two-way street. The feeling’s mutual.

To be happy requires two sides in an encounter to fulfill a common, higher purpose. And the most significant influences on happiness aren’t always the most apparent ones.

Happiness is complex.

That’s as true between a nation and its citizens; between an adviser and a client; and a provider and a practice.

And when you lead a team with a stake in the happiness of hundreds of financial advice practices and practitioners and paraplanners, thousands of investors [plus shareholders and regulators too], I think it matters to the way we do business. I think it pays to pay attention.

That brings me back to the findings of the UN’s World Happiness Report in 2013. It’s no coincidence that the Danes feature in plenty of the research surrounding happiness. Because who topped the UN’s national happiness index?

Denmark. (The UK came 22nd.)

In fact, digging around the topic a little bit more, it seems the Danes frequently appear top – or very near it – in any survey of happiness, well-being or contentment.Which begs the question: ‘Why are the Danes so happy?’.

And, perhaps just as importantly, what lessons can we learn from the day-to-day Danish experience that we can apply to the way we do things around here?

2015 is the year James Hay intends to find out.

Stay tuned.